mainly hiking – varying the routine only in response to the weather.
Our first planned day out was the straightforward and flight hike
along the roadside out to Moon Hill. The rather poor map that we had
indicated that it was about eleven kilometres round trip and that
there were a number of attractions to be seen on the way – The Totem
Trail, The Butterfly Spring, The Dragon Caves, The Banyan Tree Park
and Moon Hill itself. We set off after breakfast.
The initial walk was to the edge of town where the more elaborate and
decorative buildings of the tourist quarter give way to functional,
shoe-box-squat structures that are purely functional and far more
typical of modern Chinese architecture. Soon these too disappeared and
we found ourselves heading down the side of a broad highway. It wasn't
especially busy and it was lined with fields on both sides. Beyond the
fields, far more magnificent when seen here, without the town, are the
giant karsts that make the area one of China's most scenic places and
put it high on any tourists list. They rise from the flat
surroundings, or from the water filled fields, like improbable giant
molehills. Most of them are conical but here and there nature has
wrought them into more elaborate shapes as pieces of them have broken
and fallen or the wind and weather have eroded them.
Before too long we came to the first marked "attraction".
It was the Totem Trail which, we discovered too late, had the less
than attractive price of 108Y. Now ten pounds may not sound like a lot
but by local standards it's a considerable sum and for that you should
expect a pretty special attraction. First though you have to navigate
the arcane procedure for actually paying it. You go to a ticket booth
where you pay and you are issued with a ticket. Then another employee
escorts you to a second ticket booth where various details are asked
and filled in on the form by another employee who takes and stamps the
ticket. Another employee then leads you to the gate where yet another
takes your ticket and admits you. I suppose it's one way of finding
employment for the huge population but seven people (two in each
booth) to do work that could far more efficiently be accomplished by
one seems a little excessive.
So we were in. After a small and deeply uninteresting museum there is
the trail itself. My advice is not to bother. Phoney totem poles have
been set up along a path that you can easily walk along in about ten
minutes. Here and there, there are equally phoney "village huts" where
people in authentic polyester prehistoric costume try to convince you
to have your picture taken with them (printed and for sale at the
gate). Then, just as you are thinking "There must be more to it than
this" you discover you are right. There is more. There is a gift shop
through which a snaking aisle leads you past the overpriced souvenirs
for almost as long as you have spent on the trail.
A final twist and you are back out on the car park.
We spent a few minutes trying to find any sign indicating either the
admission price or the true nature of the attraction but were unable
to discover one, which prompted our decision to skip the Butterfly
Spring as it had a similar lack of detail at its ticket booth.
We did however stroll on to the Banyan Tree Park where, for a far more
reasonable 20Y we wandered around a pleasant and busy park which just
happens to have a Banyan tree in the middle of it. Sure, it's just a
park but it's a nice park filled, even on a fairly gloomy day, with
people enjoying themselves. Families were playing with each other.
People were wandering round just relaxing. Bamboo rafts were punting
along the river.
We continued on. The Assembly Dragon Caves were along a detour from
the main road and we decided that if we had the time and the
inclination we would see them on the ay back and pressed on to Moon
Hill itself. Once again it was in a park with a small entry fee. It's
called Moon Hill because there is a roughly semi-circular rock arch at
the top of the hill which has its lower edge obscured by trees when
viewed from the level of the road. The result is to make it look like
a crescent shaped hole through the rock.
The climb up to it was steep, zig-zagging between the trees along a
path that took about twenty minutes to climb. It was about half that
on the way back down.
The walk back to town also seemed to go rather faster, perhaps helped
by the decision not to visit the caves. Back in town we opted for a
curry in a Malay restaurant and then settled down in a pub called The
Alley for a couple of beers. It had been a long and pleasant walk
though mostly along a main road. We made plans for a couple more walks
and called it a day.